If These Walls Could Talk

Living it up at the LaSalle

Illustration of the Lasalle Hotel

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

It was 1967: the first wave of baby boomers was crashing ashore at Queen’s, and student accommodation was tight. By the time Linda Watson (Rehab’70) got her acceptance from the new School of Rehabilitation Therapy that summer, there was not a room in residence anywhere on campus.

The crisis led to a memorable first year at Queen’s for Ms. Watson.

“I think at that point the Dean of Women or somebody said, ‘Look, we have a lot of women who need accommodation.’ So, they negotiated with the [hotel],” says Ms. Watson. “We were just lucky.”

For one year, the fourth floor of the LaSalle Hotel on Bagot Street (now the LaSalle Mews) became an adjunct women’s residence where roommates enjoyed private washrooms with full baths, their own TVs, fresh linens and towels weekly, and a downtown lifestyle unparalleled among Queen’s first-year resident students.

Ms. Watson shared a standard hotel double with twin beds, bedside tables, a bureau, and an escritoire. Since the students would be hotel guests for months, they were given leeway to personalize their space. Ms. Watson recalls they were allowed to rearrange the furniture and put posters on the walls. 

If a light bulb needed changing or the toilet was backing up, they just called the front desk and got prompt service. “It was terrific,” Ms. Watson recalls.

By 1967, the LaSalle was a Kingston institution. The original section of the hotel, a handsome stone structure that curved around the corner of Bagot and Princess streets, was built in 1841 – the same year Queen’s received its royal charter from Queen Victoria. The five-storey brick extension Ms. Watson would eventually call home was added in 1928, according to Kingston architectural historian Jennifer McKendry.

The distinctive original part of the hotel was razed in 1974, but when Ms. Watson was in residence, it was still a downtown landmark, home to both the Cat’s Meow, a less-than-elegant bar that was officially off limits to the fourth-floor students, and a formal dining room that Ms. Watson remembers visiting once for Sunday roast night.

The LaSalle students could have purchased a meal plan on campus, but the dining halls were at least 20 minutes away, “and frankly we didn’t like the food so much at Ban Righ,” says Ms. Watson. Most opted to eat at nearby restaurants, she says. The Cozy Restaurant, just across the street, with booths big enough for five, was a popular spot, as was a Chinese restaurant around the corner on Princess.

“If you just wanted a grilled cheese sandwich or something, you could get that in the [hotel] coffee shop,” says Ms. Watson.

Some of the LaSalle women “felt that they were looked down on by people who were in a legitimate residence,” says Ms. Watson, but she thoroughly enjoyed living more like a tourist than a student. And when the time came to find off-campus accommodation in second year, she and some friends opted for a house not far from the hotel.

That year at the LaSalle gave Ms. Watson not only unique memories, but a new best friend. “We met on that floor, and we still talk every week … 50-odd years later,” says Ms. Watson. 

Tell us about the University District house you lived in and the memories you made.

Prefer the offline issue?

The Queen's Alumni Review is the quarterly magazine for Queen's University alumni. Compelling stories and photos make it a must-read for all who love Queen's.

Download Winter 2023